Survivors tell tales of nightmare, fear, panic | Inquirer News

Survivors tell tales of nightmare, fear, panic

By: - Reporter / @deejayapINQ
/ 02:44 AM December 19, 2011

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY—The morning after showed the extent to which “Sendong” had brought this proud city to its knees.

Despair was etched on many faces in the village of Tibasak as residents sifted through the mud and debris, retrieving whatever they could salvage from the banks of the Cagayan de Oro River littered with the ruins of houses and dreams destroyed.

Unaccustomed to a disaster of this magnitude, residents strove to pick up the pieces of their lives torn by the storm in a matter of moments.


They told stories of a nightmare, the fear and panic as they fled walls of thick muddy water swirling around them under the pounding rain, sweeping away people and things with abandon.


They spoke of tragedy, of loved ones lost, of broken dreams and shattered hopes.

As the river surged a few dozen yards from their house, Roque Campanilla, 77, refused pleas by his family to join them at the rooftop with only the clothes on their back, a mobile phone and a statue of Mother Mary.

The water had risen with astonishing speed. “It was just seconds. One moment it was at our ankle, the next it was up to our neck,” his daugher, Marlyn Campanilla-Tan, said.

Outside, they heard neighbors screaming, “Tabang (Help)!”

Tan recalled shouting to her father: “Pa, come here.” But Campanilla did not listen to their entreaties, he said. He told them the river would not reach that high. He was wrong.

On Sunday afternoon, Campanilla was among dozens of bodies retrieved from the settlement by the riverbank in Barangay Macasandig, one of the hardest hit areas in the city.


Campanilla’s body was found sprawled among the broken furniture in a corner of the house, his head covered in mud, leaving only the chest exposed. As his body was carried by workers from a funeral parlor, the family’s wails cut through the din.

“I could not look at him,” Tan said, the dark circles in her eyes reflecting her anguish.

“I feel guilty because I was not able to save him,” Campanilla’s 23-year-old granddaughter Toni Tan said.

Family heroine

But her mother did not agree, saying Toni was the heroine of the family.

“She was the one who saved us,” Tan said. Toni had punctured an opening in the ceiling by smashing the old plywood, hauled herself up and grabbed the other members of the household, while her father Ray hoisted them up.

A nurse, Toni said she was used to life and death situations and knew she needed to keep calm.

“I saw that everyone was already in shock. My father did not know what to do, so I tried to find some way to get to the roof,” she said.

Many villagers were staring into space in a stony silence, as though still dazed by the events just hours ago that changed their lives in a heartbeat.

Houses had been flattened and trees and electric posts uprooted in what used to be a bustling riverside community.

Bare-chested men hacked away at wooden plants that could still be put to use. Others occupied a covered basketball court where relief goods were handed out.

“It’s all gone now,” Eleonor Salas, 53, said as she contemplated what little remained of her house.

Saving a life

She could not forget the howling winds and the sound of the raging river, followed by the screams of her neighbors.

“I thought we were all going to die,” she said.

Salas said there was no time to carry any belongings. She tried to tuck one of their two piglets into the crook of her arm, if only to preserve the last source of their livelihood.

But when she saw one of her neighbors struggling to keep afloat, she made a decision.

“I let go of the pig and went to help her,” she said.

Elsewhere, villagers sought to restore a semblance of normalcy.

On Pelaez Road, residents were washing mud from their soiled clothes with free-flowing spring water at roadside pipes.

“There’s been no water and no electricity since yesterday,” Celeste Ceroy, 31, said.

Many residents of this city of 500,000 were unbowed.

The one surprised

Faith Sambaan, 49, a returning overseas Filipino worker from Canada, learned only of her family’s ordeal upon her arrival at the airport.

“I came home early because I wanted my homecoming to be a surprise. But it turned out I would be the one surprised,” she said.

Her husband Andrew and 16-year-old daughter Samantha spent hours on the rooftop till the floods subsided.

“Now our house is a wreck. All our furniture and appliances have been destroyed. We’re back to square one,” Sambaan said.

“But I thank God they are alive when so many others are dead,” she said. “In a way I am glad to be home so I can be here for them,” she said.

Bona Rama cheated death by holding on to a blanket fashioned into a rope by fellow survivors who pulled her out from the second floor just before flood waters engulfed the area and lifted her onto the rooftop of the three-story building in Macasandig, Cagayan de Oro.

The 21-year-old from Talisayan, Misamis Oriental, was among 200 nursing students staying in the building. They were to take their board examinations in the city on Sunday.

Two others in the building, a house help and a the child of the owner who were on the first floor, drowned.

Floods in a flash

Councilman Prisco Zapanta of Barangay 13 in Burgos, Cagayan de Oro, choked back tears as he recalled how he and his family lost all their belongings and a vehicle used in his freight forwarding business. “I thank God my whole family were all safe,” he said.

“Nobody would suspect that the huge flood was coming because early on Friday, the rains and winds of typhoon Sendong were considerably slow. It was only at about 10 p.m. when we observed the waters of the Cagayan River surrounding Isla de Oro were rising quite slowly,” Zapanta narrated.

“Many of us had already started evacuating but the turn of events was too fast that at 11 p.m., when we were still evacuating our things and children, the flash floods were already so huge and furious that other residents still in their houses were swept away by the killer deluge.”

He said in Isla de Oro alone, 24 dead bodies, mostly children, were recovered the following day and about 100 were still missing.

Leonides Remolado, 64, said life would go on.

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“That’s how it is. Something ends, something begins. We will start afresh,” he said, his cap still stained with mud, as his two children washed their muddy clothes in a creek. With a report from Romulo Ponte, Inquirer Southern Luzon


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